Young science enthusiast Brielle Milla, 6, comes face to face with a dinosaur at the Liberty Science Center’s annual Genius Gala. Joe Difazio | For NJ Advance Media
By Michael Sol Warren | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
One has helped discover thousands of new planets in the search for the next Earth. Another teaches the most popular course in Yale’s history. A third is a pioneer in understanding the human genome. And a fourth is on the cutting edge of cryptocurrencies.
Four brilliant minds were honored Friday night at the Liberty Science Center’s Genius Gala 7.0. The annual celebration shines a spotlight on the star scientists of our time while raising money for America’s fastest growing museum. Here’s what happened at this year’s party.
Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT, was honored at the Liberty Science Center’s Annual Genius Gala. Joe Difazio | For NJ Advance Media
Sara Seager: “Indiana Jones of Astronomy”
MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager was the night’s first honoree. Seager is a pioneer in the search for the next Earth; she is sometimes called the “Indiana Jones of astronomy” because of her quest for the holy grail of planetary science.
She and her colleagues have revolutionized techniques for studying plants beyond our own solar system. These planets, known as exoplanets, were not totally accepted when Seager began her work in the 1990s. Now, nearly 4,000 exoplanets have been detected.
“When I first started working on exoplanets, it was kind of taboo. There was a a giggle factor, because people didn’t take it seriously,” Seager said.
Gala goers watch a presentation at the Liberty Science Center’s planetarium during the Center’s annual Genius Gala. Joe Difazio | For NJ Advance Media
The quest for a second Earth
Seager said that her curiosity in the cosmos was sparked as a child, when she visited a planetarium in her hometown of Toronto. She gushed over the Liberty Science Center’s Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, which opened in December as the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere.
“Not all of us get to see the majesty of the dark night sky,” Seager said. “The planetarium lets you witness that.”
Paul Hoffman, president and CEO of Liberty Science Center, speaking with Vitalik Buterin who was honored at Center’s annual Genius Gala as the founder of cryptocurrency Ethereum. Joe Difazio | For NJ Advance Media
Vitalik Buterin: Cryptocurrency maverick
If cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin really are going to take over the world, Vitalik Buterin will be on the forefront of the revolution. The Canadian-Russian, just 24 years old, is already worth billions of dollars after creating Ethereum, the second-most valuable cryptocurrency network in the world. Buterin video called into the Gala to accept the award and discuss his work.